There are lots of heroes in our society. Soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers and fire fighters are among them, and we regularly praise those groups with special holidays, public ceremonies, and “I support (fill in the blank)“ ribbons. But sometimes it seems that we heap so much adulation on those high profile professions that we ignore the contributions of more subtle heroes who serve in relative anonymity.
For instance, how about folks like social workers and addiction counselors? They work for modest pay and make a huge difference for folks living in society’s shadows. Those heroes save and improve plenty of lives too.
Then there are water and sewage workers. We hardly give them a second thought, but every day they do the dirty work of managing our human waste so devastating diseases don’t break out. Waterborne diseases kill 1.5 million peopler every year, so that’s kind of a big deal.
Protesters belong on the long list of unsung heroes. They speak out about what they think is right, even when it’s personally uncomfortable and dangerous. They are courageous and patriotic, and without them the world would have much less peace, safety, conservation and social justice.
How about scientists and engineers who develop products, services, knowledge and methodologies that make the world more safe, or protect the environment? They do life-saving, planet-saving work, but we’re never going to see ceremonies honoring them before the playing of the National Anthem.
There are the millions of people who have jobs that are not typically regarded as heroic – bureaucrats, janitors, receptionists, brokers, construction workers, computer techies, customer service reps, wait staff, accountants, salespeople and underwriters, to name just a few. Their vocational contributions go largely unrecognized, but their work makes our economy and society hang together and hum.
Many of these folks also donate huge amounts of their free time to better their communities. They give blood, raise money, defray nonprofit staff costs, visit senior shut-ins, and coach, tutor and mentor kids. Nobody pays them. They just do it. That’s also heroism.
These unsung heroes don’t have interest groups, politicians, corporations, pro sports leagues, and public relations agencies using their resources to celebrate their contributions. They don’t wear uniforms that serve as reminders of their heroics. But their work is inspiring and important nonetheless.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge the praise we give to soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers, fire fighters and others. But I worry that the klieg lights we shine on those groups tends to blind us to the more subtle every day heroism that is happening all around us.
So if we feel like we need to add another holiday, maybe we should go with an umbrella day to remember these other folks. “National Unsung Heroes Day” has kind of a nice ring to it — a day to remember those we usually forget. Those heroes deserve recognition too, and the rest of us deserve another three day weekend.